A Grant McLennan Story

This story happened in (I think) 1999 at David McCormack & Emma Tom’s wedding reception one Sunday afternoon in a backyard at Bulimba. My girlfriend (at the time) and I knew a few people there – but they were all much cooler than us and we were very little in those days. We were shuffling around in a corner somewhere looking awkward until I saw Grant was all alone and I had something to ask him — so up I went.

I think I either assumed he remembered me or I gave a very vague introduction. (See previous story). But he didn’t seem to mind and let me launch into it. “Have you heard of the Belle & Sebastian song Shoot the Sexual Athlete?” I asked.

“No,” he said. And it almost looked like he hadn’t even heard of Belle & Sebastian — or was only vaguely familiar.

“Well it’s all about how Stuart Murdoch loves the Go-Betweens!” I said excitedly and perhaps shocked he didn’t know about it. Although Belle & Sebastian were in their heyday at that time admittedly this song was not on any album or b-side — it seemed to be only available through a download on a fan’s website. The lyrics to the song go:

“Now I’m in a band people try to make me do things
Kiss arses and pay tribute
But I’m inclined today to do those things anyway
And I don’t care who hears it
‘Cause I’m a fan of the Go-Betweens
A fan of Robert, and I always have been
But I like Grant, now that I’ve met him
Because he’s charming
Of all the stars, and all the would-be stars
I’d take him home, to my mum and dad
Yeah, he’s charming, but he’s a trouble-maker too
He amuses me greatly”

I tried my best to relate what I remembered the lyrics to be to Grant and no doubt exaggerated my own perception of conflict and drama in the song — when now I look at it — it’s only ever so slightly balanced in Robert’s favour. And again — that was probably never the intention. It’s almost a love letter to Grant the more I think about it. But the way I told it, it was another of those Grant vs Robert tales where Grant always comes out second best.

Also — what I didn’t realise at the time — there was another song about the Go-Betweens by Sydney band Smudge — released in the early 1990s which I bloody guarantee you Grant was super-familiar with. It was called “Don’t Want to be Grant McLennan”. And I am sure it was intended to be cute and ultimately reverential: but I bet Grant wouldn’t have taken it that way in his heart of hearts. 

“Want to be like Robert Forster and rock and roll from heaven 
But the songs I write in the middle of the night make me sound like Grant McLennan 
Don’t wanna be Grant McLennan 
Don’t wanna be Grant McLennan 
Paul McCartney Ringo Starr 
George Harrison and John Lennon 
Don’t wanna be Grant McLennan”

I mean it is called: Don’t want to be Grant McLennan and even somewhat implies Robert is greater than all the Beatles.


The more I learnt about the Go-Betweens, the more I listened and talked to friends about them, it was a bit of a running gag — Grant wrote the hits and Robert wrote the deep stuff. And there was this bizarre thing where if you were a true fan — you had to choose. 

And although I am a massive dork — I do possess at least the semblance of some social skills and perhaps the most modest ability to pick up on some cues. So when I told this story to Grant I could see he was secretly a bit guttered. You could almost see him thinking, “Not this shit again. oof”. 

But he bounced back.

Almost immediately he said, “Well I like the other Stuart better!”

I almost fell over laughing. It was so funny and revealed he was indeed a true Belle & Sebastian fan — and especially so because the band were famously very secretive in those days.

That was Grant.

The subject was quickly changed and he then told me how much he loved The Cardigans. I was like, “You are kidding – right?” But a few weeks later I bought their album and he was right. So, so right.

Stupidly I tried to get this story to Belle & Sebastian a few years later — and I am pretty sure I succeeded. But perhaps thankfully they didn’t acknowledge nor reply! 

And I guess I am supremely proud Grant got the last word in that conversation.


(Some shot in Brisbane, some in Melbourne 2 nights before)

Photos by me! In Brisbane at the Tivoli in 2004